The Future of Media Education: Finding Balance in the Luxuries and Liabilities of Participatory Culture


Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and Weigel (2009) in their article, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century define “participatory culture” as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.”  It is this “participatory culture” which the authors use to vividly describe the luxuries of the applications afforded to us through the use of digital media in e-learning.  Learners benefit from collaboration, networking, simulation, blogging and a variety of other approaches used in this participatory culture.

One would be hard pressed to deny the positive impact of technology and the use of digital media in education of both young people and adults in today’s world.  Information is readily accessible practically at our fingertips, the world has become smaller as we are able to communicate across the globe in a matter of moments and connectivity has spawned creativity and new approaches to learning within community practices.  Additionally, the use of digital media in education has grown exponentially even in the last few years.  Nevertheless, as one reads through this article and contemplates all the possibilities available in the application of digital media to education, it is difficult to deny the reality that there are liabilities which also need to be addressed and managed.    In the article the authors outline three core problems as they establish why we need to teach media literacy.  These three core problems help establish the need to identify the liabilities and manage the luxuries of media education.  Most importantly, they establish the need for educators to be aware of these issues as they contemplate the future of e-learning.

The first core problem outlined by the authors is that of “the participation gap”.  The authors explain this to mean the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills and knowledge that will prepare learners for full participation in the world (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and Weigel, 2009).  The fact of the matter is that inequalities exist in people’s access to media technologies and the opportunities that they offer.  One might argue that this is merely an issue that impacts our youth but youth grow into adults and often continue with their learning so the implications of equal accessibility may be far reaching.  The participation gap is tied to educational policy as much as anything.  In order to avoid having an elite class of individuals who possess superior skills and knowledge primarily because of their access to equipment and software, educators need to be keenly aware of how policy will impact equal access for all and what opportunities and/or abilities they may possess to influence these policies.

The second core problem is described by the authors as “the transparency problem” and basically involves the inability of young people to examine media for themselves.  Gaming offers the potential for learning through direct experience and has been useful in teaching a number of subjects such as history, science, and math.  However, some studies have indicated that although students have become quite adept at using games as a learning resource, they lack the ability to see how media shapes their perception of the world.  The authors note that game content often comes to young people already branded and shaped through the economics of sponsorship thereby containing commercial influences and bias.  In order for media education to truly be beneficial, a strong teaching presence is needed to provide a safe place in which all can learn and master skills needed to be citizens and consumers.

Finally, a third core problem discussed by the authors is that of “the ethics challenge”.  This pertains to much of the activity conducted through social media which is open to the public and which can have far-reaching consequences.  The authors admit that these expressions are poorly understood by young people, as well as adults and the ethical implications of these emerging practices are fuzzy and ill-defined.  Although in professional contexts, the professional organization acts as a “watchdog”, in the more casual settings, there seldom exists any “watchdog”.  The question becomes one of learned discretion suggesting that perhaps one goal of media education should be that of encouraging young people to be more reflective about the ethical choices they make as they engage in these types of “participatory culture”.

The authors wrap up with three points that I think well summarize what is needed to bring balance to the luxuries and liabilities of participatory culture which is so prevalent today.

1)      Efforts should be made to ensure that every child (or person) has access to the skills and experiences needed to become a full participant in the social cultural, economic and political future of our society.

2)      Efforts should be made to ensure that every child (or person) has the ability to articulate their understanding of how media shapes perceptions of the world.

3)      Efforts should be made to ensure that everyone has been socialized into the emerging ethical standards that should shape their practices as media makers and as participants in online communities.

It is clear that educators face not only the challenges of learning how to incorporate new media strategies into e-learning but how to maintain balance in the luxuries and liabilities of these learning tools and techniques.

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One Response to The Future of Media Education: Finding Balance in the Luxuries and Liabilities of Participatory Culture

  1. bwatwood says:

    I do not discount these potential liabilities…but I wonder if they are being overplayed. “Access” has become pretty ubiquitous – from libraries to wifi access in Starbucks. Each of the three groups in our class used different technologies, but you each figured them out without guidance from me.

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